Day 92/138 2022/2023 Viking Neptune World Cruise. Colombo, Sri Lanka. Day 1/3
This blog you are about to read started on my iphone and went to my Ipad, which will not load the blog program, because I need to sign into my Apple account and the internet, just will not allow that until I back up the Ipad. So plan B was to upload Iphone photos into the Asus Vivobook laptop I've got with me, and pull up the wix blog program on the laptop. Its a good thing I can handle technology, so I can finally get this blog published tonight! Yeesh!
We woke up to another smelly port! What else is new? Colombo, Sri Lanka is our home for the next 3 days. There are two capital cities in Sri Lanka: Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte (City and Legislative functions) and Colombo ( Executive and Judicial) . Colombo has a population of 780,000 which for a country with 22 million surprised me. I would have thought that the largest city and the capital would have had more than one million people.
Sri Lanka has had its financial difficulties of late having been bailed out by the IMF two days ago to the tune of $330 million, which is the first tranche of a deal that will see the country receive $2.9billion. The IMF bailout for Sri Lanka is its 17th bailout. The reason Sri Lanka is bankrupt or in such financial difficulty stems from the fact the country had no tourists after deadly bomb attacks in 2019, and then the country was closed for tourists during the global pandemic for over a year. Experts believe the real reason the country needed bailing out was due to the former President's economic mismanagement. Sri Lanka since 2009 has focused on providing goods to its domestic market instead of trying to boost foreign trade. Therefore its income from exports remained low, while the bills for imports kept growing Sri Lanka imports $3bn per year and is in a trade deficit situation, and frankly just ran out of foreign currency The former President imposed big tax cuts when he was elected in 2019 and lost the government much needed revenue. When foreign currency shortages became a serious problem in 2021, the government tried to limit the costly importation of chemical fertilizers, telling farmers to use organic fertilizers instead, which led to widespread crop failure. Sri Lanka then had to import more food stocks such as the basics like rice, and that led the foreign currency shortage to get even worse than it already was.
Our trip today was to Galle which is 126 km south of Colombo on the southwestern tip of Sri Lanka. Galle is a UNESCO World Heritage site and from what we had downloaded, the old town inside the Galle Fort was not to be missed. We had initially been signed up for a 4 hour Colombo walking tour on Day 1, but the tour was not going to start until 3pm and we were docked and cleared by 8am, so we thought Galle would be a better use of our full day, than to do a shorter walking tour. The Galle tour started by meeting in the Star Theatre at 9:30am. The cost of both the Colombo walking tour and the Galle tour was $119 USD and the Galle tour was an 8.5 hour tour, which included lunch.
We met our guide on bus 10 and proceeded to drive our large, cool air conditioned bus through the busy Saturday streets of Colombo until we finally got to the highway. Our drive to Galle was to take 2 hours.
As we drove on the toll highway which the guide said was built by the Chinese and to which the toll money goes, we passed by fields of coconut palm trees, rice paddies with water Buffalo grazing in the paddies, groves of rubber trees, cinnamon trees and kapok trees. The countryside did not look very inhabited and I am still wondering where 22 million people live if we did not see very many of them on our 2 hour drive south.
We stopped for a restroom break at a roadside Service Centre much like we have in Canada on the 401 or 400 series highways or the I75 on the way to Florida. The fast food restaurants included KFC, and Pizza Hut. We could have been anywhere in North America with these fast food chains! The guide had to pay for each of us to use the restroom, but since there was a lineup I waited before going to the washroom. I saw there were 3 ATM machines in the lobby of the food court, so I quickly pulled out my cheat sheet currency converter piece of paper that I had done last evening to understand how much money I should be asking for out of the ATM. I settled on 40,000 rupees which worked out to $179 CAD. I then updated my cheat sheet when I got back on the bus to reflect the correct exchange rate from today’s withdrawal, which was not off by much from my internet search last night. It is always good to have local currency especially because we did not know where the ATM machines would be located in Galle.
Galle was not much further from the highway road signs and it was now noon, so the drive took a bit longer than anticipated at 2.5 hours vs the advertised 2 hours.
Our first stop the fish market, so we were surprised when we stopped by the side of the road on the beach. We jumped off the bus onto a narrow cement walkway and had to walk back 500 yards to an outdoor market to see the fresh fish being sold in many different stalls.
One fisherman wanted to pose with his fish for me.
As we walked back to the bus after a short visit to the fish market we saw fishermen fixing their nets on the beach.
The fisherman fish at night, so it is important that their nets were ready for tonight’s fishing adventures. Our guide said the price of the fish fluctuate depending on the time of day and if the fish are not all sold by the end of the day the price drops substantially. If the fish aren’t sold they are dried and then sold dried.
Sri Lanka is hot! Hotter than Malaysia. Yikes! After the short walk to the fish market the sweat was dripping down my back. My choice of a cotton shirt today was not very smart. Cotton does not wick away sweat. A Columbia wicking shirt or dress would have been much better to wick away the moisture.
Galle where we were heading today is known for its walled fort which was built in 1584 by the Portuguese and then the Dutch. The fort is made of granite stones and coral and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. Occupying 130 acres, the fort is built on a small rocky peninsula. The British conquered the area at one point and added the clock tower. Following the disaster caused by the Tsunami of 2004 a renovation and reconstruction project was launched to bring Galle Fort back to its former glory.
Our bus dropped us off outside the new gates to the Galle Fort. Buses cannot enter the old town of Galle Fort. Our guide started marching us up the steps to the top of the old fort and just then we saw a kids marching band practicing in a field inside the old fort. The leader was a very eager young man marching his troops around and around in the heat. I took a video which I will put on Facebook. I loved the colorful plastic accordions they were using in the band.
Follow me! I'm the leader. This kid leading the marching band certainly had all the moves down pat!
Follow me this way!
The sun was at its highest and the guide had us walking around the hot stone walls of the Fort with no shelter or shade.
Sentry box Galle Fort
Clock Tower Galle Fort
Mike and Gene looking out through the gun turrets at the cricket match across the street.
Galle cricket match on a very hot Saturday afternoon
We couldn’t stand the heat that was rising off the granite stone of the old Fort walls, so we asked what time we had to be back to the bus. Our back to bus time was 1:45pm, which gave us about 45 minutes to walk around the shady streets of Galle Old Fort.
Galle Old Fort is a surprisingly beautiful restored area with high end shops, restaurants and tourist hotels that look like you would find Ernest Hemingway sitting nursing a cocktail at the bar and servants fanning him with palm fronds. Galle Fort was quite a contrast from what was outside the gates of the Fort where the busy mayhem of the city existed.
Margaret found a beautiful bracelet in a jewelry store in Galle Old Fort. I frankly just found it too hot to think about buying anything, so we stopped for a vegan coconut milk stracitella gelato and ate it sitting on the sidewalk café outside the gelato shop. Both me and Richard thought the coconut milk gelato was the best we have ever had! Yummy!
We walked back through Galle Old Fort to reach our waiting bus which was driving us a short 7 minute bus ride to a place for lunch.
We stopped at Jetwing Lighthouse Hotel, designed by Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa in Galle for lunch. Geoffrey Bawa was one of the most influential Sri Lankan architects of his generation and also designed the Sri Lankan Parliament Buildings. We walked up a very interesting staircase to the heavily air conditioned second floor.
The staircase created by Laki Senanayake depicted the battles that Sri Lanka, Sinhalese had with the Portuguese in 1505 at the Battle of Randeniya.
Lunch was buffet style with a wide array of delicious local dishes. The butter chicken was amazing and was extremely spicy. I loved it. The salad was so fresh and delicious with a homemade orange dressing and I even had a mango ginger cold soup shooter! Wow! Dessert included cakes and pastries reflecting local Sri Lanka delicacies and by the time we got to the dessert table some of these were finished. I had some delicious watermelon, papaya and pineapple for dessert which were so fresh and tasty!
After a quick one hour lunch it was back on the bus to go back to Galle Fort for a one hour exploration of the old town. I saw some very cool masks of Sri Lanka in the market that I wanted to buy but the vendor would not negotiate so I walked. I did buy some neat painted door stoppers which are easy to pack and are light.
Our guide wanted us back on the bus for 4:15pm and I wrote most of this blog from the comfort of our cool air conditioned bus. on our 2 hour and 15 minute drive back to Colombo, Sri Lanka.
Galle Old Fort is definitely somewhere to visit if you want to check out of life for a bit; rest, relax and take it easy. The main shopping street is Pedlar Street and it did not take us very long to see all the shops on this street. Prices were often in dollars and not rupees and were more expensive than we have become used to in our recent travels, but the quality of clothing was very good, very fashion forward, local and higher end. I’m glad we made the time for the long bus ride today to experience more than just Colombo, while we are in Sri Lanka. Seeing the countryside made me appreciate Sri Lanka beyond just the smelly port area of Colombo that we have seen so far.
Tomorrow we are golfing at it should be a very special golf day, since we are playing a Royal golf course and we are also having our dinner off the ship tomorrow night, so that will be fun too! The blog will definitely be delayed until the following day!